Artificial Life (2)
Game Theory (1)
Movie Reviews (67)
Outer Space (4)
Quantum Theory (5)
Special Relativity (1)
Science Fiction (4)
An excellent samurai action film
ARTICLE INFO2004 has seen a resurgence in the genre of samurai films, with the releases of "The Last Samurai", the Oscar-nominated "The Twilight Samurai", and "Zatoichi" in UK screens. All three share the same setting, that of feudal Japan, but each one is very different to its companions. Takeshi Kitano's "Zatoichi" falls somewhere in between "The Last Samurai" and "The Twilight Samurai", with its mix of slow drama, slapstick-comedy and brutal violence. It sounds like a bizarre combination, but it works perfectly.
film by Takeshi Kitano
rated 7.5/10 by 2 people
Posing as an itinerant masseur, Zatoichi ('Beat' Takeshi - Battle Royale) meets an old peasant woman whose town is beset by two rival gangs vying for control. To repay her for her shelter and food he decides to rid the town of its gangsters and, in the process of doing so, he crosses paths with several other wanderers who have converged at the same place, including the masterless warrior Hattori whose skills might be a match for his own.
Writer/director/actor Takeshi Kitano is probably Japan's best known (living) director, and has gained widespread acclaim for his violent Yakuza films as well as his forays into drama, such as the beautiful "Dolls". Retaining only the bare essentials of a character with twenty five previous cinema outings to his name, Kitano pursued his own vision for "Zatoichi", aiming to introduce a dynamic rhythm to the slow feel of its predecessors.
This rhythm makes itself felt in a literal sense by the integration of background sounds, such as peasants tilling their fields, into the film's soundtrack, as well as in the slow build-up of tension, punctuated by flurries of slapstick comedy and sudden, explosive violence. The opening sequence is probably the best example of how these elements are fused together within the film, and is worth the price of admission alone.
Kitano portrays Zatoichi in the same way as all his acting roles, but here his laconic minimalism is ideally suited to the deceptively harmless masseur, able to move from shuffling old blind man to master swordsman and back again with ease. He is ably supported by the hapless gambler Shinkichi, the old peasant woman, and the two vengeful geisha women, but a special mention should be made of Tadanobu Asano, who excels in his role as the deadly Hattori. Though he is impassive throughout most of the film, he manages to convey a range of emotion unmatched by any of his co-stars.
Flashbacks are used throughout the film's length, and the degree to which they add to the film varies - some are seamlessly integrated into the thread of the story whereas others are obtrusive. Highlights include when Zatoichi passes by a rest-stop on the way to the village and a brief series of vignettes detailing the primary characters is shown as the camera passes over each one. Later on, Zatoichi and his companions take shelter during a thunderstorm, and the rain brings to mind different memories for each person. These moments enrich the film, even if they are not strictly necessary to elucidate an understanding of the characters and their motivations; the scene where one of the geisha girls practices her dancing and the camera switches between the geisha performing the dance as an adult and as a child is wonderful to behold.
The only negative aspects about the film are that it is a little too long at 111 minutes, and the use of computer-generated blood is very unrealistic. Running length is always one of those subjective issues, and oddly enough I find that my opinion changes with every viewing. The latter qualm can be mitigated by the fact that it was a deliberate choice. Kitano exaggerated the spurting effect in order to tone down the violence, and one does get used to it after a while.
From Kitano's platinum blonde hair, to the meticulous sets and costumes, and the rousing Stomp-esque dance finale, "Zatoichi" is a film blending new and old, a re-imagination that injects a shot of adrenaline into a tired and lacklustre genre and a truly entertaining film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.